The island’s only french immersion preschool has a new home in what was formerly Vashon Youth & Family Services’ Playspace building.
Islanders Coco and Brennan Banks purchased the building at the corner of Vashon Highway and Gorsuch Road for $530,000. The sale closed last week. For Coco, who founded Le Ouistiti three years ago and is the head teacher, the purchase represents a chance to expand.
“I have been waiting for this opportunity for the last two years. When this building became available, I just knew it was the perfect fit for Le Ouistiti and our plans for the future,” she said.
She continued to say that Le Ouistiti’s mission and educational philosophy will remain unchanged and “the intimate, nurturing learning environment that families have known at Le Ouistiti will remain true,” as will the maximum 8:1 student-teacher ratio.
The school will move from its current home in the Land Trust Building in coming months and classes in the new location will start this fall. Le Ouistiti focuses on exploring the French language using both the French national preschool curriculum and the US Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework. According to Coco Banks, for the past two years, the number of students enrolled has not exceeded 12 due to the size of their classrooms in the Land Trust Building.
“All that is about to change,” she said.
But what is not changing is the Playspace’s Birth to 6 programs. Kathleen Johnson, executive director of Vashon Youth & Family Services (VYFS), said that even though the building sold, VYFS will continue to offer family education and support services in the building’s bottom floor. A one-year lease has been signed, and the programs will begin in the new space on July 17 under a new name: Family Place.
“We think ‘Family Place’ tells young families and islanders more about what we do,” Christine Wood, program manager of VYFS’ Family Education and Support Services said. “We … will continue to offer an array of support to for parents and caregivers of young children.”
The Family Space programs are moving into the location on the building’s ground floor, formerly occupied by Vashon Children’s Center, which closed in February after VYFS announced the sale of the building. Contrary to what Johnson said about the center’s closing, Children’s Center owner Amanda Lawson said at the time that she did not receive adequate notice of the building’s sale and that the center was at its 22-child capacity last summer. Her closing “created a panic,” she said in February.
In an effort to address the lack of childcare establishments on the island, Le Ouistiti’s Coco Banks also said she is planning to offer an after-school care program for preschool and elementary students.
“Having this bigger space will enable us to enlarge our offerings to our families and community,” she said. “We are excited at the future prospects for Le Ouistiti and are eager to share them as these plans become more concrete. Our dream is to have a space that is equally welcoming to the children we serve as well as our families.”
The building went up for sale in February in an attempt to improve the financial picture of the agency that has been struggling with securing funding for years — Johnson said grants for early childhood prevention services all but disappeared, United Way cut a needed grant, and the recession affected giving on the island among VYFS donors. But the sale was controversial as the building is a community asset — financial support for VYFS’ purchase of the space in 2011 and renovations were provided by the community — and some islanders believed that because of that, VYFS should not sell it for its own profit, but make it available to other nonprofits or community organizations.
When VYFS announced the building was going on the market, VYFS board president Marilyn Campbell said the board was “acutely aware of the building’s history as a community asset, but selling the building became a necessary move.” Proceeds from the sale will go to stabilizing the agency and to strengthening services.
“With all these changes, we recognize there are many questions,” Johnson said. “We are in the process of organizing community gatherings to give islanders a chance to ask for answers, to learn what we are doing now and what we hope to do in the future.”
Le Ouistiti is currently accepting applications for the 2017-18 school year. Parents with children ages 3-5, who are interested in Le Ouistiti’s French immersion and kindergarten-readiness program, can find more information on Le Ouistiti’s website at leouistiti.com.
Classes will begin in the building at 9822 SW Gorsuch Road this fall.